As Max Saw It

Overview

Two men are classmates and friends at Harvard, though never all that close: Max, a brilliant student with a touch of the aesthete's affectations about him, and Charlie, some years older, having served in the Korean War. As Max sees it, Charlie excels in a single scull, soaks up martinis, and enjoys the favors of a particularly glamorous Radcliffe girl. Twenty years later, not having seen each other since college, the two men meet unexpectedly as guests at a villa on the shore of Lake Como. Max is now a law ...
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As Max Saw It

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Overview

Two men are classmates and friends at Harvard, though never all that close: Max, a brilliant student with a touch of the aesthete's affectations about him, and Charlie, some years older, having served in the Korean War. As Max sees it, Charlie excels in a single scull, soaks up martinis, and enjoys the favors of a particularly glamorous Radcliffe girl. Twenty years later, not having seen each other since college, the two men meet unexpectedly as guests at a villa on the shore of Lake Como. Max is now a law professor, circumspect and slightly sorry for himself - a man to whom relationships do not stick. Charlie has become a celebrated architect, the most successful member of their class. Beautiful when a young man, he has ripened into a foul-mouthed, golden-tongued giant: a demigod and a bully. In his imperious way, he proclaims that Max will henceforth be one of his chosen intimates. Charlie is right. Max's life becomes increasingly intertwined with Charlie's, and with that of Toby, Charlie's adolescent companion. When Toby is stricken by a devastating illness, Charlie performs an act of coolly calculated self-sacrifice, the only gesture he thinks will make a difference. Max bears witness, and learns a lesson that may at last complete his sentimental education. With all the force and elegance of his earlier work, Louis Begley's masterful new novel tells a gripping story of friendship and mortality.

Winner of the PEN Hemingway Award and the Irish Times Book Award, this "powerful . . . consummately beautiful--and major work of literary art" (New York Times Book Review) tells the story of a man fleeing his marriage, and the two men who come to shadow and shape his life over the next 20 years.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[A] Perfectly Constructed Novel...The time is 1974, and Max, who is fleeing from the wreckage of his first marriage, is a summer-house guest on Lake Como, where he encounters the two characters who will shape his life over the next 20 years: Charlie Swan, a Harvard classmate from the 1950s turned famous architect...and Toby, a poised and polymorphous teenager who is soon to become Charlie's protege and lover."

-- Time

"Elegant And Powerful...Charlie Swan is a grand invention -- a big, booming American who bears evidence of Begley's admiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald. Begley does a superb job of gradually involving Max, his narrator and Charlie's friend, as a loving witness and an inseparable participant....[A] startling feat."

-- The New Yorker

"Elegantly Wrought...As Max Saw It, without ever mentioning the word, confronts AIDS and the bravery, sacrifice, commitment and horror it engenders....Pain there may be, but such sublime writing as this can make us cry as well."

-- Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Begley Remains A Writer Of High-Order Virtue -- smart about the secret movements of the heart, keen to know the last lies we cling to, and unafraid to tell us the dire truths central to our business of living and loving....This is a novel about the gulf between sense and sensitivity, the difference between wisdom and intelligence."

-- The Miami Herald

"Begley's Impeccable Artistry Spins A Magical Web of shared consciousness not only for his characters, but for our time....Begley shows he is a consummate stylist."

-- USA Today

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This piercingly observed and brilliant novel combines the ambience of Begley's The Man Who Came Late with some of the underlying themes of his Wartime Lies . Max Strong leads a life of privilege: a Harvard Law professor, he is also the author of a bestselling book, the unexpected heir of a sizable estate and the friend of jet-setting architects, moguls and diplomats. As narrator he devotes equal time to chronicling his own experiences and describing his intersections with Charlie Swan, a Harvard classmate with whom he is reunited one summer when both are guests at a villa at Lake Como. While Max, approaching 50, can say that his past has been ``unperceived, really not felt,'' Charlie is extravagant with his emotions, loudly exercising his passions. Max watches as Charlie becomes deeply involved with Toby, a breathtaking young man whom Max describes as ``Eros himself.'' When Toby gets AIDS--unnamed here but unmistakable--Max learns from Charlie what it means to endure, to survive and to surrender. Begley disarms the reader with his elegant prose, his ample sentences and ornate syntax cushioning the keenness of his perceptions. In the end, however, the reader, like Max, is forced to confront himself in the role of bystander and onlooker: Begley takes the measure not only of his characters, but also of his audience. Apr.
Library Journal
Like Begley's second novel, The Man Who Was Late LJ 12/92, this new work features a privleged outsider. Max is a Harvard graduate currently teaching at the law school, but he doesn't have the ease that great wealth brings to so many of his friends. He still feels like an outsider when he attends a reunion of sorts at a classmate's villa on Lake Como, where he becomes reacquaited with the nearly mythic Charlie and his young assistant, Toby. During a chance encounter a year later in Beijing, Max discovers that Charlie and Toby are lovers. The story that unfolds focuses on the travails of Charlie and Toby's relationship and Toby's eventual death due to AIDS, with a sidetrip concerning the implications of Max's unexpected new wealth. Begley's writing is as readable and fluid as ever, but the story goes by so quickly that we barely have time to get a feeling for the characters before it is all over. Charlie's final sacrifice for Toby is, however, powerfully rendered. Less than fully satisfying but of interest to most collections because of Begley's reputation. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/94.-- Barbara Hoffert, ``Library Journal''
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780449909478
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/11/1995
  • Edition description: Reprinted Edition
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.96 (h) x 0.42 (d)

Meet the Author

Louis Begley
Louis Begley
Louis Begley lives in New York City. His previous novels are Wartime Lies, The Man Who Was Late, As Max Saw It, About Schimdt, Mistler’s Exit, Schmidt Delivered, and Shipwreck.

From the Hardcover edition.

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